Legislation Introduced to Deny Visas to Aliens Engaging in Espionage

The U.S. State Department’s recent move to close the Chinese Consulate General in Houston over concerns of espionage has spurred federal lawmakers to consider new measures that would prevent the entry of known or potential national security threats into the United States.

On July 28, U.S. Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) introduced the Protecting America From Spies Act. The legislation would require the State Department to decline visas to foreign nationals engaging in espionage or intellectual property (IP) theft against the U.S.  

The bill also expands the Immigration Naturalization Act’s purview by prohibiting the entry of spouses and children of aliens who have committed crimes such as spying or illegal technology transfer. Additionally, it would make those who are convicted of espionage or intent to commit espionage ineligible for admission to the United States. Under existing law, aliens deported for espionage-related reasons can reapply for a visa to the U.S. The State Department can waive the proposed restrictions under special circumstances.  

After criticizing human rights abuses inflicted by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Sens. Cruz and Rubio were barred from traveling to the communist country. The senators’ approval of the Trump administration’s visa restrictions on Chinese officials contributed to the banning as well.

The discovery of the Chinese Consulate serving as a foreign surveillance post in Houston is nothing new. For years, the PRC has aggressively sought to steal IP, data, and military intelligence from Americans. Even academic institutions throughout the country face covert infiltration from spies with ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Chinese students and researchers enter the U.S. through F or J nonimmigrant visas, some of whom are charged with embezzling and sending U.S. technology back to the PRC.  

Our immigration laws should provide efficient measures to combat illegal tradecraft from nations that pose a national security risk. While the Protecting America From Spies Act is a step toward achieving that goal, Congress also needs to enact other legislation that would hold the PRC accountable, such as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Visa Security Act, introduced by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). This bill would reject visa applicants who are associated with the Chinese military.

Another remedy would be to reform the EB-5 investor program. EB-5 recipients invest $900,000 in the U.S. to obtain a green card. Most of the beneficiaries of the dubious program originate from China. In 2017, a U.S. Customs and Immigration Services investigation found 19 cases of terrorism, espionage, and illegal tech transfer committed by individuals who entered through the faulty program.

Until the remaining loopholes in our immigration system are closed, and we tighten our national security vulnerabilities through legislation and enforcement, the U.S. is prone to additional public safety threats from China and other nefarious actors.

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